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51st

INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS


Christ in Your, Our Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27)
Jan 24-31, 2016, Cebu City, Philippines

(Please check against delivery)

TESTIMONY BY MARIANNE SERVAAS


Jan 26, 2016
Standing here before you all, I am very aware of the fact that there is
nothing special about me. I am one of you: an ordinary human being. Yet,
all of us have been given one specialty. God is closer to us than we are to
ourselves. We stand before Him empty yet He fills us with His love. This
gives me the courage to speak in trust, thankfulness and with joy.
When I tell people, or they discover, that I became a Roman Catholic
as an adult by choice, the question why, spoken or unspoken,

lies

around the corner. The answer to that why is not easy because it is so
simple: I fell in love with the Eucharist and therefore with the Church. It is
the Eucharist that drew me, holds me and roots me in faith.
Yet, it took a while before I discovered its mystery, joy and challenge
for I grew up in a family and context that was outspokenly anti-Catholic.
My grandfather came from the Netherlands to Belgium in order to
convince Catholics to leave the Church and become evangelicals.

He

thought

My

that

the

Roman

Catholic

Church

was

unchristian.

grandmother was one of his first converts. My father and all his brothers
worked as pastors or ministers within evangelical congregations. From an
early age I had questions, some triggered by personal pain due to a history
of sexual abuse and the reality of a mother who was seriously and
terminally ill. I often wondered quietly How can you say that you believe
one thing and live another? and the tears I shed were many.

Other questions were more theological in nature: What does it


mean to be Church? How does being Church relate to concrete day-to-day
life?
Every time I thought of the Church in Belgium, no matter where I
was, I felt sadness and a desire to ask people: Where is your joy? It also
puzzled me that within the evangelical groups that I knew, so often splits
occurred, linked to a slightly different interpretation of a single Bible
verse. What is truth and where does our unity lie? became existential
questions and I had a restlessness and sadness within me that meant I
could not but continue to search.
Yet, I am thankful for all that I did receive, particularly the broad
knowledge of the Bible. Let me put it clearly: I did not become a Catholic
for negative reasons nor has it made me un-ecumenical. Rather, I
discovered a greater depth and was unable to resist the appeal and call
that was present within it

because it was related to the desire to love

Christ to the full.


One image that came to me soon after I became a Catholic was that
I grew up in an aquarium. Then I swam in the lake of a broader form of
Christian tradition. Now I am in the ocean. All the water is of God, but
give me the ocean. Here there is depth, diversity and unity.
After my studies, I left Belgium first for France, married an
Englishman and lived in England where we worked in ordinary jobs for a
few years before coming to the Philippines. Here we lived and worked for
seven years with an evangelical Filipino student organization.
It is in this country, and through you, Filipinos, that our lives were
profoundly changed in such a way that it prepared, even cleared, our
hearts to begin to see the beauty of the Eucharist and Eucharistic living.
Three things were given to me that made the question where do I belong
as a Christian burn more and more in my heart:
freedom and, yes, of hunger.

the gift of joy, of

First of all, you Filipinos were and are genuinely sacramental. The
way Christ is present in and among you is almost touchable. You opened
my heart to receive joy and trust in life itself. More so, your joy is related
to thankfulness and to humility. It is a gift to the world and the Church of
which I hope that you will not lose it. My country, sadly, appears to thrive
but actually dies due to an absence of thankfulness. Arrogance kills where
thankfulness brings life.
The second gift I received was that of freedom from all the prejudices
towards Catholicism that I had been brought up with and thus receiving
the freedom that sees what is right and beautiful in the Church.
It is also in this country that I began my theological studies. I spent
a lot of time in the library of the Loyola house of studies at the Ateneo de
Manila. Here I discovered a depth in Orthodox and Catholic thinking that
made me hungry for more. The richness and beauty that all truth is Gods
truth began to draw me. The question: where do I belong as a Christian
and what does it mean to be Church, began to weigh.
Where do I belong?
What I did not expect, is that this question would be answered not
only when my head became clear but also when my

heart was made

ready to receive divine love through grace.


Then came the happening that turned my life upside down.
Friends of mine invited me to join them for the celebration of the
Easter Vigil. I accepted with some hesitation as if I sensed that this would
be it. And it was.
Two moments will remain with me forever. They came as pure gifts.

The first was during the litany of the Saints: Sancta Maria, ora pro
nobis, sancte Petre, sancte Augustine, ora pro nobis. To say it moved me
falls far short of what truly happened. I felt and sensed and smelled in my
whole being this is our family this is my family. They are present. It
made me feel humble, small and profoundly peaceful.
Only later did I realize how the experience of that moment speaks
volumes about the essence of being Christian. We are in Christ. What is
His is ours. All those saints are our brothers and sisters praying for us,
even the angels do. Our true home is with them. When we sing the litany,
when we remember them, they do not remain a memory from the past or
an interesting story to read. They are with us. Why? Because of Christ
and his Church. Christ is our hope and they know Him as glory as we will
do one day.
The second moment during the Easter vigil, was even more
fundamentally real. It came during the lifting of the host at consecration.
To see the priest hold high the consecrated host, no words can express
what I experienced then and ever since with a certain regularity. If I try, I
would say that I felt and continue to know this: Christ is really present.
Not only spiritually or emotionally, also concretely, materially, in the flesh
and as fully as possible. I did not understand this by reason, but as a
way of knowing. All I wanted to do was lie down before Him in complete
silence.
Our unity as a Church lies in Christ who sent from the Father and
through the Holy Spirit comes to us very really in the Eucharist. Not our
thinking, our decisions, our points of view or theories bind us together. He
does and here lies our true hope for He is not an idea but a Person in
whom and with whom we have all things in common.
When we say amen, we do so to Him and not to ourselves or our
many constructions.

To allow the Eucharist to be the beating heart of the Church can


free us from so much nonsense, ideology, talk about talk. The many,
many words that certainly we as westerners have become so good at. The
Eucharist is so profoundly freeing only if it remains the beating heart of
the Church. If not, we become locked into ourselves or our identities and
we block becoming formed into Christ. As to me personally, what I did not
expect is that daily participation in the Eucharist continues to chase away
even that which remains trapped deep within me and to strengthen me
there where I will, on this earth, remain scarred or broken.
Christ is our medicine. He heals by entering us really and when He
comes to us and we allow Him in, sin eventually and increasingly runs
away.
The Easter Vigil bound my heart, mind and thinking together in one
unavoidable yes!
A yes that is always an answer to His love for God did not shun
becoming human. He even rejoiced in it so that we could not only be
saved, but be taken into His very life. Thus our own lives, no matter what
the circumstances are, can be filled with hope for He is our hope and our
promise of glory. Hope is for the Christian an ever increasing reality and
one that is very, very needed in the country where I come from.
Europe, and especially the part of Belgium I live in, is going through
a period of growing unbelief.

This is new in its history and yet the

implications are already beginning to show.


Let me illustrate through one example. There is a connection
between the city of Cebu and the city of Mechelen, or Malines as it is
better known, the place where the Archdiocese of Belgium is and where I
also happen to live and work. The connection is actually Santa Nino. You
see Santa Nino has a twin. Not in Prague, with apologies to people of the
Czech Republic unless Santa Nino is a triple. The twin is the infant Jesus
of Malines. When you see pictures of it, they are very similar in height and
style. Where is this Jesus of Malines now? In the Louvre museum in
France. Whereas here the Santa Nino is celebrated as a source of devotion

and living liturgy that strengthens the faith , the twin that belonged to
Malines is placed naked in a glass cupboard. Religion and especially
Catholicism is for many people in my country

like a museum piece.

When faith is no longer practiced, it becomes lukewarm. When lukewarm,


it turns into ideology or nothing more but an interesting little hobby.
Eventually, it ends in a cupboard, stale and distant. Sadly, very few people
realize that this means that the mystery of life itself will disappear and
with it joy, hope and even peace.
A great darkness lies over my country. We have amongst the highest
number of people who commit suicide world-wide. Many people struggle
with burn-out, depression and extreme loneliness. Where poverty in
relationship, in silence, and in inner peace is a reality and where
arrogance tends to reign with subtle hand, these things develop over time.
Unbelief and secularization lead to an apathy and a loss of sensitivity for
the mystery of life itself.

Gradually, the minds and the hearts of the

people have become numb to the Gospel. It is a cause of profound but


hidden suffering to which we ourselves have opened the doors.
One of the great temptations for living in a country where the
Church rapidly ages and diminishes while unbelief grows, is to fall into
negative attitudes or to withdraw into a nice small group that licks its own
wounds and becomes indifferent to the world. Another is to believe that
we ourselves can save people if only we speak clearly enough, argue
decently, use entertainment, etc.
Yet, the Eucharist is different. It is a celebration of the Mystery of
faith that expresses Gods longing for us poor human beings. Even in the
deepest darkness the presence of Gods glory searches for our happiness.
What I personally have learnt is that when things get really difficult and
the pain is almost unbearable God consistently invites us to look to
Christ, not to our circumstances, not to the lack of joy, but to Him. He is
our glory and He is always fully trustworthy.

Several of the darkest

moments in my life, turning to Christ in the Eucharist and receiving Him

as Savior, crushed the hardening parts of my heart as He turned it into


living flesh and filled it with hope.
What does it mean to be Church?
In the midst of a situation where euthanasia is becoming common
place and where elderly people are ignored or often put in so-called old
peoples homes, where fear is on the increase and the hearts of my fellow
citizens are breaking due to the silencing of a longing for God, where
violent reactions are growing like mushrooms and restlessness has
become a way of life to be like Christ, to be the Church, is to live
thankfully and sacrificially, to live Eucharistically.
Whatever darkness seems to rule, whatever sin shouts oppressively,
this very Hostia the victim and the Eucharistic host is the One who
gives us strength to be present like Him.
He teaches us to live thankfully. Not to serve because we think we
can save the world through our actions, but because we are thankful.
Through the Eucharist, we are called day by day to live the concrete
paradoxes of humanity's deepest source for happiness: "lose to find",
"receive by giving", "live by dying". This is the joy of Eucharistic life. Words
may no longer be heard, symbols may have lost power but the Mystery of
God who became human never ever loses its beauty. Whom else is so
humble and strong at the same time? What we eat, we become, saint
Augustine said. If we empty ourselves and then eat Christ, drink Him,
absorb Him, allow Him to penetrate the deepest corners of our heart and
there let us be filled with his hope, we will truly be in Him as He is in us
and He will spread His light.
One thing I would like to end with. It is a plea to you all and
especially to those from countries and places outside of Europe. Please, do
not follow Europe on the road to secularization and unbelief. It is only a
walking backwards.

We have lost the ability to kneel and it makes us unfree. We have


lost humility and it makes us decrease in humanity. Only Christ Himself
can save us and He is needed in the most joyful and real way possible,
free from our interpretations and ideologies. Pray that we will return to the
Eucharist, there where Christ is unconditionally present, so that we can
be like Him present as peacemakers

pure in heart and poor in spirit,

empty of ourselves and so full of Him that it spills out in deeds of pure
goodness.
I became and remain a Roman Catholic due to the Eucharist. All of
us, every single person as well as whole nations can taste and see how
great our God is and how indescribably beautiful his desire is for us to
receive hope and grow in His glory. Why? Because He is and He gives
Himself unconditionally. He is our glory.
The song that is about to be played is very old. It is part of a hymn
written by Saint Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi. It sums
up who Christ wants to be for us. He, the One who opened the doors of
heaven, can give us strength to overcome every struggle we have to go
through. It is He who will lead us to our true home: the land of God, our
Father.
***